Critiquing MLB and its obsession with pace of play
By Travis Koch
More rule changes targeting pace of play are on the way. Is it wise for MLB to mess with tradition in order to field a larger, less patient audience?
MLB has leaked a few potential rule changes. Specifically, a universal DH, a pitch clock and a three batter minimum for pitchers. The three batter minimum is exactly how it sounds — every pitcher that enters a game will be required to face at least three batters. While none of the changes are expected to be implemented this season, the proposals have certainly gotten the attention of everyone who is associated with the game.
Drastic changes are sure to have at least a few people up in arms. I believe each of these changes does qualify as drastic.
Strategy is the argument against a universal DH and a three batter minimum. At least, that’s what most fans are arguing. I’d imagine players and coaches may have a gripe as well. On the other side, Major League Baseball is arguing pace of play. Which takes precedence? Strategy or pace of play?
The answer: pace of play
Major League Baseball has always hung its hat on tradition. It’s America’s Pastime, a game played into three centuries. Of course it’s going to take pride in its roots. However, as other major sports evolve, baseball must as well.
MLB will likely never keep up with the NFL and NBA regarding starpower. There is something about the way professional football players and professional basketball players present themselves, that professional baseball players can’t seem to keep up or reach similar masses of people.
Perhaps that’s an indictment on MLB’s marketing department, but the reality is baseball is not a star-driven sport. Even the biggest stars in the game like Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado can’t compete with LeBron James or Tom Brady in terms of popularity.
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So, if the stars aren’t giving people enough reason to tune in, what will? Commissioner Rob Manfred believes the solution is enhancing the flow of the game and essentially shortening the game.
According to Baseball Reference, the collective 2,431 MLB games from a year ago averaged three hours and four minutes (3:04) per game. In 2017, the average was 3:08; 3:04 in 2016 and 3:00 in 2015.
Two pace of play rules were enforced in 2015: the batter’s box rule and the non-game action rule.
The former requires hitters to keep one foot inside the batter’s box between pitches. It is meant to cut down on the time they spend taking practice swings, running their cleats over the dirt, adjusting their batting gloves, etc. It certainly messed with the rhythms of hitters to begin with, though it seems they got used to it rather quickly.
The non-game action rule established a time clock that counts down from 2:25 between innings. Within the span, pitchers are to throw all warm-up pitches and hitters are to be announced and ready to step up to the plate.
Frankly, the changes haven’t made much of a difference in game duration. The average game time prior to the enforcement of the two rules: 3:07 in 2014, 3:04 in ’13 and 3:00 in ’12. Now, Major League Baseball is planning Round 2 of pace of play adjustments.
I’m all for it. I appreciate baseball as much as anyone, and with that appreciation, I want what is best for the game — now and in the future. The most common complaint heard from borderline fans or non-fans is “the game takes too long.” Some folks like to describe the game as “boring” too.
I hate hearing people talk about baseball that way, but they are the ones Major League Baseball is trying to reach with continued pace of play amendments. If MLB’s audience is to grow, the games need to be quicker. It’s that simple.
Enforce the three batter minimum and enforce the 20-second pitch clock. Enable the games to move faster. It’s not like the number of outs are being reduced. I personally can’t stand commercial breaks every other batter when a manager obsesses over matchups (Joe Maddon). It’s also annoying when a pitcher wanders around the mound for 30 seconds between pitches (Pedro Baez).
I understand every batter and every pitcher has a routine, but let’s not keep the fans waiting. Fans are the ones who show up. Fans are the ones who tune in. Fans are what Major League Baseball needs to see more of. Without fans, the game is not popular and players wouldn’t be making millions of dollars.
Traditionalists may fuss in the beginning, but they’ll learn to accept the changes. And, eventually, they will embrace the changes. That’s how it always works with sports. People are weary of change, but they get used to it over time. The bottom line is pace of play changes will improve the game by making the game more appealing. The changes ARE necessary.